How Eating Babies Strengthens New Orleans | Off the Clock Economist Explains
Off the Clock Economist Dan D’Amico is at it again exploring Louisiana and the culture of Mardi Gras. This time he will explain the social capital behind eating the babies that are placed in each “King Cake” made in New Orleans. Join him as he gets to the bottom of it at the Swiss Confectionary Bakery on St. Charles Avenue. Thought you couldn’t learn about social theory from a tattooed man wandering around the Big Easy? Think again.
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Daniel D’Amico: Did you know that here in New Orleans we eat babies? Seriously when I first moved to town I was excited to hear about this delicious cake where they put baby right inside.
So here we are on St. Charles Avenue at Swiss Confectionary Bakery to learn about how this original New Orleans treat is made – King Cakes.
Good afternoon sir, Professor Dan D’Amico.
Larry Moecklin: How you doing Dan, Larry Moecklin.
D’Amico: Larry, pleasure to meet you.
Moecklin: Same to you.
D’Amico: We’re going to make some King Cake today?
Moecklin: Sounds like a deal.
D’Amico: Let’s do it.
Larry I’m really excited to get started, I’ve eaten lots of King Cake but I’ve never gotten to make one before, so what’s the first step?
Moecklin: Well the first step that we kind of skipping over today is mixing the dough and fermenting it overnight.
D’Amico: Well let’s get started!
Moecklin: And the first step would be to just stretch it to the length we want. We get it to the length we need it.
D’Amico: Cut it down the center.
Moecklin: And split it in half so I can roll two nice pieces, and then form into a nice “O.” And then we ready to place the baby inside.
D’Amico: Now what’s the, what’s the significance of the baby?
Moecklin: When they serve the cake at a party, whoever gets the slice with the baby in it has to buy the cake for the next party
D’Amico: So what happens if you neglect those duties?
Moecklin: Ahhh, I don’t think you get to, invited to the parties anymore.
D’Amico: The first year I moved to town, we bring King Cake during Mardi Gras season into the office a lot, and I got the baby with the first piece I ever had! And the faculty secretaries the next day were like, “Hey! Where’s our King Cake? You buy one, you bring it in the next day.” It was a very cutthroat system.
Moecklin: I’ve heard that happen at some of the offices, we have some very traditional customers who of course do it exactly the same way.
Put a little egg wash on ‘em.
D’Amico: So we have purple for justice. Green for truth.
Moecklin: And the gold’s for power.
D’Amico: And the gold’s for power. Seems like Mardi Gras. Let’s head over to the oven.
The key to King Cakes is sharing. Most people have them in their offices, or schools, or parties. It’s not really something that you just eat by yourself.
Moecklin: Right I think the idea is to have a get-together.
D’Amico: Yeah, it’s great way to build community. Oh wow!
Moecklin: And that’s it, it’s a nice fresh baked King Cake.
D’Amico: Smells great! Seems like the key to New Orleans food culture is about community and sharing, whether it’s crawfish boils, or fish fries, or, King Cake. My favorite place to enjoy a piece of King Cake is actually right on the parade route, meeting new people, and neighbors, and community, and sort of sharing in that experience. But you never want to get the baby. Because then it’s your responsibility to bring the next batch. Can we try some?
Moecklin: Of course! Let me make sure you get the baby.
D’Amico: You’re cheating! That’s not fair.
Social capital is something that represents the value and productivity of human relationships. It’s not just what you own, or what you happen to have on hand in terms of food or resources, it’s often times who you know that makes all the difference. So King Cake seems like a really easy way to build a little bit of social capital. And social capital, is going to be a critical variable in understanding how the city, and the culture within it, rebounded from Hurricane Katrina, and thrives and succeeds today.
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